F.T. Cawood, Professor of Mine Surveying and Head of School: Mining Engineering, University of the Witwatersrand
This SAIMM Wits Special Edition is a special tribute to Professor Huw Phillips, who has led the School for 25 years and has left, as a legacy, the largest Mining Engineering school in the English-speaking world.
His contribution over many years is valued and appreciated by all who know him. Today, Wits Mining hosts an ECSA-accredited first degree, internationally recognized higher degrees in Mining Engineering covering several specialist fields of study, several certificate programmes, and the Centre of Sustainability in Mining and Industry (CSMI). The School of Mining Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand has a very strong relationship with the mining industry and views the SAIMM as the desired channel to communicate our plans to our partners in education. The Journal of the SAIMM frequently publishes research articles originating from the School. We expect an increase in research output as a result of the plan, which will strengthen this relationship.
The image of mining is tarnished by the problems associated with its impact on worker health and safety, on the environment, and on the communities in mining areas. These issues do not mean that there should be no mining at all—in fact, the opposite is true. Mining provides the mineral and energy resources that are essential for society since, without extracting such resources, no further development is possible and society itself will become unsustainable. Mining engineering allows valuable natural resources to be extracted by empathetic design and a cautious awareness of the economic, health and safety, environmental, and community consequences that may become visible only long after mine start-up. Mining graduates are up to these challenges and the School of Mining Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand is known and respected internationally for the quality of its programmes and
Wits Mining—Distinctly Exceptional
The School’s vision is to solve the mining industry’s professional development needs through academic relevance and excellence. Its mission is to supply the number of quality mining engineering graduates to meet the manpower needs of industry, government and academia.
Our state-of-the-art programmes must continue to deliver problem-solvers at all levels, that is, technical expertise, mine management and applied research—in short, more graduate engineers capable of doing the job after a mentorship and development programme; and postgraduates with the ability to do the applied research for industry to take great strides forward. The benefits to industry in having access to Wits Mining include a constant stream of quality graduates and regular step changes in problem areas as a result of its research output.
More than 1500 mining engineering undergraduates have been educated at Wits Mining over the years and many of them have held or are currently holding senior appointments in the mining industry and its associated businesses. Two alumni of the School have achieved great eminence:
➤ F.G. (Pinkie) Hill (recipient of two honorary doctorates) for his contributions to research and management techniques, and
➤ D.G. Krige (Professor of Mineral Economics and recipient of several honorary doctorates) for his research and contribution towards geostatistics.
Wits Mining is the only mining school in Africa with a significant postgraduate activity and draws many of its students from countries throughout the continent. The School has contacts throughout the University and these have been strengthened by the formation of the Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry (CSMI) and the Centre for Mechanised Mining Systems (CMMS). A further benefit is the support we receive from an industry, whose heart is certainly in the right place when it comes to education.
Our Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Loyiso Nongxa listed ‘Invest in the future’ as the first of 10 points to solve the education challenges of the future1. For us, it means investing in the knowledge and development of generations of mining engineers to come. Actioning our slogan, Wits Mining—Distinctly Exceptional, requires the setting of three goals supported by implementation strategies and performance indicators to measure progress over time.
To be student centred, there must be enough staff. The School is committed to the Wits’s vision of transformation in the context of maintaining academic standards. The School has the goal of filling all staff positions with competent and enthusiastic personnel. Nurturing the academic growth of staff is an important prerequisite for attracting and retaining academic staff. To ensure a critical mass of staff, marketbased salaries and start-up packages to attract and retain our most valuable assets are essential. The partnerships with the MQA, METF, professional bodies and institutes are particularly important for success in this area. Academic staff cannot operate on their own, and having access to good
support staff and technician support is also imperative for success.
Goal 2—programme relevance
Relevant programmes must keep track of the changing micro and macro environment in which the School finds itself. These environments affect not only our student and staff demographics, but also our programmes. Our academic offerings must be regularly evaluated for relevance and should gaps be identified, these gaps must be addressed appropriately and responsibly. The School’s strong relationship with the two centres and the rest of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment (FEBE) is a particular strength. The CSMI is fast establishing a global presence under the leadership of Professor Hermanus. It is assuming a leading role in the area of OHS and sustainable development in Southern Africa. The strategic partnership with CMMS allows for opportunities in the dynamic areas of mine mechanization, earth movement, and ventilation engineering. The value of these two centres is pre-eminent in our ability to offer relevant postgraduate subjects; in addition, the downsizing of private and government mining research capacity presents exciting opportunities to centres and the School.
Goal 3—academic excellence
To be exceptional starts with optimizing the student body, tackling the throughput problem, and encouraging research activity. We believe that the environment a student finds him or herself in takes on the role of an additional lecturer. The environmental surroundings will speak for what is right or wrong, and what should be done to improve the situation. The School will continue to bring the ‘environment’ to our students through workshop training at and away from campus, practical camps to complement theory, mine tours and other excursions. These practical aspects give meaning to concepts like Wits graduateness and academic excellence.
The School’s primary goal is the production of graduates to serve the needs of the South African (and African) mining industry and hence the regional economy. In 2007 an ECSA accreditation team visited the School and gave full accreditation for the maximum five-year period. An obvious goal for the School is to retain the same level of accreditation in 2012. The postgraduate programme requires review because, despite the growth in student numbers, there has been a steady drop in higher degrees conferred over the recent past. The intent is to restructure these postgraduate offerings by reducing the number of individual courses and by grouping them more rigidly into specializations, so that GDE
subjects lead naturally to focused M.Sc.(50:50) research outputs rather than coursework masters degrees. One of the benefits of the review of the postgraduate programme is that it will identify research focus areas through relevant fields of study.
The roadmap of the School of Mining Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand, with its motto Wits Mining— Distinctly Exceptional, contains the plan and strategies with targets by which the School will be measured over the next five years. The main thrust of the plan is to reach a position where the School can supply the market with more graduates, but at the same time, taking in fewer students. The plan also seeks to achieve a significantly better research output for the School because, to quote Pinky Hill, … ‘to discourage research is to preach a gospel of surrender...’2
1. Nongxa, L. A view from the Edge, Wits Leader 2010, vol. 4.
2. LANG, J. Probing the Frontiers: The Story of Pinky Hill. Jonathan Ball Publishers, Johannesburg, 1990.
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